Phone Requests For Reval Checklists Halted By Borough

Phone Requests For Reval Checklists Halted By Boroughthumbnail
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Published: September 18, 2015 @ 1:00 PM EDT

What started out as a courtesy to residents has become an impediment to the task of completing home inspections for the town-wide revaluation, according to both Realty Appraisal Company and Borough Hall.

Neil Rubinstein from Realty Appraisal Company, the firm conducting the revaluation, stated that his office has been inundated with numerous requests – upwards of 80 – from residents some times weeks and even months after the inspection was completed.

Previously, at information sessions held at Borough Hall, Realty Appraisal had stated they would accommodate those residents who wished to make a copy of the checklist when an inspector was on the premise and had completed the inspection of the inside of a property. The homeowner would have to have a copier or some other way to make a copy. That turned into some homeowners stating that they were told by the inspector that they would not allow the property owner to make a copy since the inspectors were told it was against company policy. This, in turn, resulted in certain homeowners calling up Realty Appraisal that day or the following day asking for a copy since the inspector did not allow them to make a copy on-site. That snowballed into residents weeks, and even months later, calling up Realty Appraisal’s office requesting copies of their inspection checklists.

At first, the firm honored such requests believing them to be only a couple from a few property owners. After a groundswell on social media claiming that descriptions of certain property attributes were ‘grossly’ inaccurate, their office began receiving calls requesting copies of the inspection sheets. On Friday, September 11th, after consulting with Gail Scaglione, the Borough Tax Assessor, Realty Appraisal Company discontinued honoring any further phone requests for inspection checklists at the behest of the municipality.

Gail Scaglione remarked on providing copies of the inspection sheets, “It’s something they’ve never done. They did it as a courtesy. It’s an unofficial work product. People will still have more than ample opportunity, if there are any problems, to correct it and get information right. We’re not saying that we’re not going to supply them, it’s just that we’ve got state regulated deadlines that we have to comply with. We need to get on the task on hand and they need to concentrate on finishing the inspections, getting the sales data, doing all those kind of things.”

Neil Rubinstein, a principal of Realty Appraisal Company, echoed the Borough’s sentiments, adding, “We started getting inundated with upwards of 80 or 90 requests and it’s now detracting our time from the revaluation. All revaluation firms are governed by the rules and regulations of the Division of Taxation, and under none of those rules are we required to provide a copy of the inspection form at all. What we are required to do is have informal hearings in the municipality, which we will do.”

“The time for answering those questions is during the informal meetings at the end of the year. If there is anything that is inaccurate or needs review, it’s well before the finalization of the revaluation. Whether it’s one or a million, we’re still going to do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s invite people in to review their record when it is appropriate.” – Neil Rubinstein

Mr. Rubinstein stated that when people who requested their inspection sheets well after being inspected received their copy, that one communication – in some instances – ended becoming a series of back-and-forth e-mails asking for information on what codes or notes meant. In mentioning that his firm is almost at the end of the inspection phase, he explained, “The time for answering those questions is during the informal meetings at the end of the year. If there is anything that is inaccurate or needs review, it’s well before the finalization of the revaluation. Whether it’s one or a million, we’re still going to do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s invite people in to review their record when it is appropriate.”

The informal meetings – legally required – will be arranged after the notification letters with the new assessments are mailed out. Mr. Rubinstein stated that, by law, the notification letters cannot be mailed prior to November 10th; this even though the contract reads November 6th. Mr. Rubinstein stated that the date in the agreement is in error and the state supersedes that date.

“Some time after November 10th, “commented Mr. Rubinstein, “We will be mailing a letter to every property owner that will advise them of their future assessment and instructions on how to contact us should they desire to come in and sit down and have a one-on-one interview with somebody from my firm to go over their property card.”

Ms. Scaglione reiterated the point about the meetings with property owners. She said, “Anybody that finds an error, whether it’s a heating error, whether it’s ‘I don’t have this, I have this’, I can change that and Realty Appraisal also will sit down with them and go over the final property card and change it.”

Some residents were still disappointed and uneasy about being denied copies of their inspection checklists when they called or e-mailed Realty Appraisal Company. Ms. Scaglione wanted to assure those residents that there was nothing untoward in the decision to cease honoring those phone requests.

“I’m hoping that everybody understands that we’re not trying to give anybody a hard time,” she said, “We’re just trying to move forward with the reval. I want them [Realty Appraisal] to do the job that we’re paying them to do. This is extra work they’re doing, it’s not contractual. Just be patient with us. We’re going to get to your questions but I’d rather get you a final property card to look at and any changes that have to be made, be made on that final property record card.”

The town-wide revaluation is the first in over two decades and was a measure by the municipality to have properties reflect current market assessed value in place of assessments from the 1908s which have an average house in Roselle Park valued at $65,000. A town-wide revaluation will also reduce the number of tax appeals which have cost the municipality over three-quarters-of-a-million dollars over the last couple of years.

On the property owner aspect, when the tax rate is set next year, the prevailing theory is that some property taxes will go up for those who have been underpaying and some property taxes will be reduced for those who have been paying more than their correct share while others’ property taxes will remain basically the same.

Information on the overall status of the revaluation is available at Realty Appraisal Company’s website (link).